Saturday, August 04, 2007

Writers beware? ...RIP Chauncey Bailey

When I heard the name 'Chauncey Bailey' and the words 'gunned down in Oakland' spill out of a TV news anchor's mouth Thursday morning as I got ready for another day at work, I paused. In fact, the name Chauncey Bailey, alone, caught my attention because I felt like I knew the name, but I just could not remember how.

It wasn't until I got to work that I actually realized how bazaar the news was. The name was familiar because I had seen it several times on an Oakland Tribune byline. The Tribune is a paper I have a connection to, both personally and professionally. And on top of all that, I'd only ever heard that Bailey was a good guy...the editor of the Oakland Post, an African American paper that was delivered to my church every Sunday. My mentor, Bob Butler, sent out a message to the Young Black Journalist email listserv announcing and reflecting on the news of Bailey's death on Thursday morning. It was then that I began to reflect on what it all meant.

Bailey was gunned down by an employee of Your Black Muslim Bakery in Oakland on Thursday. The employee confessed that he killed him because he was angry over stories Bailey had written about the bakery, its employees and leaders in the past. According to Oakland Tribune reports, Bailey had been working on a story about the group and its finances.

When this news broke Friday, I realized just how serious of a job being a journalist is. Your work has consequence, both good and bad. And I knew that. But I never thought that seeking the truth about your community and reporting it could get you killed.

Just last month, a mother approached me about her concerns that ice cream trucks were selling realisitic toy guns to children in Hayward, Calif. So I wrote a story about it. The woman attended a City Council meeting to voice her complaints, and I wrote a story about that too. Eventually, Hayward's chief of police called a meeting with ice cream truck vendors in Hayward and demanded they stop selling toy guns from their trucks or face reprimand. And I wrote a story.

Never before had I experienced writing something that affected visible change or action on the part of leadership. So I drove home Thursday night to share that with my parents. As my mom fried chicken, she, my step dad and I talked about what had happened to Bailey that morning. Both of them were concerned...because most headlines and anchors read and reported a "Journalist gunned down in Oakland." They thought of me. Jokingly, they asked if any ice cream truck vendors might seek revenge because I had called attention to the fact that some of them had been selling, to six-year-olds, imitation firearms meant for people 18-years-old and up.

Did Bailey ever wonder if writing the stories about the Black Muslim bakery would put him in danger physically? I shiver at the possibility that he knew the stories could possibly get him killed.

It makes me wonder: how careful (or un-careful) are we as journalists when we sit down to write stories that will have some consequence (positive or negative) for the stakeholders?

More on Chauncey Bailey.

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Posted by Aaron Morrison at 7:52 PM | link

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